I have a romantic, idealized notion of apple picking in the fall. (Also, pumpkin patches, hayrides, corn mazes, and cider doughnuts.) I could never say no to an invite for a Sunday afternoon at an orchard, with the sun muted and the leaves snapping under my boots. Luckily, I’ve gotten no such invitations this year. I say “luckily” because I foolishly signed up for a fruit share as part of my CSA this season.
The fruit share is from OPMA in Eastern Washington, and brought cherries in the beginning of the summer; a couple weeks of peaches and plums; and what seems like coon’s ages of apples and pears, though I suppose if I’m supposed to be exercising restraint against hyperbole, it actually only started in late August. There were the Boscs and the Bartletts and one week of Anjou. There were Honeycrisps and Galas and Golden Delicious and Granny Smith. Plus, things I’ve never heard of in the apple world: Fortune, Sweet Louise, Cameo. “An apple a day” has fueled me for two months, and I don’t mind that much. It’s only when the paper bags of fruit make a tower on the counter and the table, all in various stages of ripening to rotting, where my panic over abundance kicks in. Some people worry about not having a fully stocked, apocalypse ready larder. My worries are the opposite: of so much fleeting bounty that I forget to slow down and truly take it all in.
It pains me to admit this next part, but I don’t like most baked apple things. I love the idea of apple pie, but can never manage to enjoy the reality. A cinnamon-sugar baked apple is something I dread being served for dessert somewhere where it’s only polite to eat it. Arlie and I made an apple crisp with some of the Galas that was barely passable, only because I put candied ginger, walnuts, oats, and dried cherries in the topping, so you couldn’t taste much cooked apple. Plus ice cream. And I still sent him home with half of it.
So, now I’ve turned to canning. I love the idea of canning, but have always been too chicken to do anything beyond that. Lucky for me, the pounds of fruit on my counter are forcing my hand. I’ve taken all my recipes so far from Marisa Mcclellan and her book Preserving by the Pint. First, I made the Honey Lemon Pear Butter, and was so excited slash nervous about botulism and other canning fatalities that I forgot the cinnamon. Then, Stuart and I made the Winter Fruit Mostarda, which required boiling apples and pears in a honey syrup, then packing the fruit into jars, then reducing the syrup, then ladling the syrup over the fruit. WAY too annoying, though quite good after we finished.
In the later part of the week, we made Apple Rosemary Jam and Chocolate Pear Jam, and we implemented a system. I cored and peeled and mixed and simmered, he prepared the jars and lids and bands for the boiling water bath. I still don’t know if my jam set properly; Marisa says that “you’ll know when it’s done when you pull a spatula through the jam and it doesn’t immediately rush in to fill the space you’ve cleared.” I suppose it’s my calling for the rest of the fall to keep making jam, so I can figure out a non-visual way to accomplish this. I like some texture in my jam, so I basically just stirred it until I was afraid if I didn’t pull it soon, it would collapse into runny pools and I’d have to call it syrup and tell you that, “obviously I meant to do that.”
Of course, this 1950’s housewife jam making hobby doesn’t take in the fact that I actually hardly ever eat jam. I buy jam, because it always sounds so good and wholesome. But then the calendar turns and suddenly, it’s been in my cupboard for a year and I’m panicking because I really should open it up. Home canning commandments say to use your jam within a year. Once again, abundance. It really isn’t something I should complain about.
Stuart suggested I save the jam I’m making for holiday gifts, (here after known as Giftmas or Solsticemas in this blog). He insisted my family would love it. I recalled all the family celebrations where my aunts would bring jars of pear butter and preserves as their gift exchange offering, and my parents would dutifully take them home; then, I’d be home sometime in the summer and see the jars in the fridge, top-crusted and sad-looking. I totally get it. The first toast-and-jam goes down easy, then I go back to dinner leftovers or skipping breakfast entirely.
Maybe, though, my abundance, and the preserving of that abundance by my own hands, will help me enjoy eating it more. Abundance is teaching me more about gratitude, and jelly points and headspace, than I could have imagined back when I was only eating cherries. For that, I’m thankful.